Tag Archives: Composting

Trials 2013

This year our trials will be hot beds and composting kitchen waste.

Hot beds – living in a comparatively cold part of the UK where the winter temperature in the garden has been at least -10C for the last ten years it is important to find ways of extending the season. Last year there was only frost free month, July. That is unusual as we normally have 2-3 frost free months in a typical year. This year we want to be more proactive and use hot beds. As fresh manure is in constant supply on the farm just a few metres away we thought it would be easy to try to heat a couple of solar pods using fresh manure.

Composting kitchen waste – now that most councils collect kitchen waste it is easy to think that the solution has been found. We produce a lot of waste by cooking from fresh ingredients each day and do not want it to go to a municipal composter. Of course that is better than land fill but it is a waste of nutrients from the garden. For many years I have looked for a way to compost kitchen waste easily throughout the year. From February we will trialling an insulated compost bin designed specifically for kitchen waste. The compost will then be returned to the garden to grow new crops producing a true closed loop system.

The time for change is now!

We are on the edge of a precipice; the Arctic ice cap and Greenland glaciers are melting at an increasing rate yet no government seems to either care or want to do anything about it.greenland-glacier-melt-nasa

Radical steps are needed to avert disaster on a scale unprecedented in human history yet governments are still spending billions on space research, building a new radio telescope and other esoteric research. It is time to suspend such projects and spend the money on ways to improve energy and food security.

The UK government pleads poverty and have recently said that climate change has to take second place to economic recovery. That makes me mad, very mad. They do not seem to recognise that the time to address these issues is NOW!

Energy security is relatively easy to tackle as Germany has shown by increasing the amount of electricity generated by renewables from 20% to 60% in 12 years. In the UK the government ended a scheme to support households installing PVs because it was popular and the small amount of money allocated was used up too quickly.

The tired old mantra that there is ‘no money in the pot’ is just a lie. There IS cash for free schools and an extra £100m for summer schools was announced a few months ago. All very laudable but what if the generation now going through school struggles to afford food or cannot find enough of it? Just think what £100m could do to help switch to renewables or help us to improve food security.

My conclusions are that administrations are not taking climate change seriously which amounts to a criminal failure to govern. It is time for really radical change: 1) stop space exploration and divert money to mitigating the effects of climate change. 2) Do not build the expensive ($100m) very large array radio telescope and divert the money  to projects to encourage more home renewables and domestic food growing. 3) Stop spending billions of politically motivated education follies like free schools and use the money to reintroduce horticulture to all UK schools.

That would be just the start of changing the way we live to one that fits the level of resources available to us. The irony is that this would produce a fairer and more ‘sustainable’ economy but it takes vision and foresight to see that, something sadly lacking these days.

What can we do? Grow more food; you knew I would say that. Reduce car journeys, use public transport more, develop an awareness of the hidden costs of everything you buy, buy less, recycle everything you can, make compost – particularly from nutrient rich kitchen waste. Finally, ask your MP, councillors, other political representative what they are doing about food security and energy security. Look at the response you get and it is not adequate tell them!

Find your district councillors, county councillor, MP, MEP.


Who said home composting was a mugs game?

One of the first things our new government did was to announce that metered rubbish collections would be scrapped. There was a big cheer from the protest groups who want the ‘right’ to fill as many bins as possible. But maybe recycling and careful management of what is tossed into the bin might just be a good way of saving money.

In the US many local authorities are doing just that, saving money by not sending so much trash to land fill.

One town in Maine has tripled recycling rates while reducing expenses 50%. Sanford residents implemented a trash metering system that requires residents to pay by the bag for curbside collection. After one month, the 50% decrease in garbage tonnage far exceeded the town manager’s expectations. If projections hold true, this town of 21,000 in southwest Maine can save about $250,000 in garbage tipping fees, crucial as the city will face a 20% price increase in the service after the new year.

Over 150 municipalities in Maine have shifted to a trash metering system, and other towns and cities across the US are joining them as well. One program is WasteZero, a firm that works with about 300 cities in transforming their waste management systems. According to the company, these towns reduce their landfill waste about 43%, while together collectively net about $65 million, either in avoided disposal fees or revenues from recycled materials.
[From: http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/41688 accessed 27 Aug 2010 0700 GMT]

So, why the reluctance to do the same in the UK? Why do we feel it is our right to expect somebody to always be there to clear us the mess we make?

It is strange that this should have become such a big issue. If reducing the amount of waste we throw out saves money why object to doing it? It is sheer madness. Or is it just laziness?

In this household we recycle everything possible. The result is that out small size wheelie bin could be emptied every 4-8 weeks.

Food waste, there should not be that much, and other green stuff can be composted at home and used on the garden. It is such a valuable source of nutrients I would never throw it out.

The big question remains, why did the current government scrap metered waste? Was it to win friends and votes? Was it to divert attention from the savage cuts? Was it that they just do not care?

Composting urban myths

One common question asked by newcomers to organic gardening is what can be composted and what should be left out of the compost bin. The quick answer is that you can compost anything that has lived as every living organism breaks down and eventually returns to the soil.

The more refined response is that there are some things that are best left out of the compost bin for various reasons. There are also a lot of myths going round about what you should and should not put in the bin.

It seems that people are being advised not to compost cooked food with some advisers even saying that it is illegal! This mistaken idea may come from legislation about the disposal of meat after the last foot and mouth scare. While I would not put meat of any description into a domestic compost bin other cooked food is perfectly safe to compost and I cannot find the source of any legislation saying that it is illegal. If you know of the any law that prevents the composting of cooked food in a domestic setting i.e. at home in your garden then PLEASE contact me.

Another associated myth is that you should not compost cooked rice or bread. There is a web site saying that rice contains bacteria so should be left out of the bin. I know that you need to be careful when reheating rice but there is no reason at all why it should not be composted. Compost is all about bacterial decomposition that is what generates the heat, so once again this is an urban myth that is developing into another obsession.

There is also no reason why you cannot compost small amounts of bread. It will breakdown and is best covered by other material and not left on the surface. The only reason why you should not add larger quantities is that bread is very good at attracting mould and mould kills bacteria. So larger quantities bread can slow down or even halt the composting process. Maybe the best answer is not to waste bread in the first place, think of all the bread and butter puddings you are missing.

The common reasons given for not including cooked food is that it will attract vermin i.e. rats. My experience is that rats eat anything and will enter a bin if it contains uncooked vegetable waste e.g carrot tops. The way to keep them out is to use square welded wire mesh on the floor of the bin with holes small enough to keep them out. Please note:  it has to be the welded mesh; chicken wire is not strong enough.

So, do not be scared by the unfounded myths about composting. Kitchen waste is a valuable source of plant nutrients and can be composted, just remove the meat.

Compost better than fertlizer

An article on the Environmental News Network says that using compost in the garden is better that fertilizer.  Adding good quality compost improves soil fertility, soil structure and provides nutrients in a way that enhances the soil.

A good quality compost can improve the soil far more than other amendments by making it more porous, and balancing the nutrients so that plants can thrive over a longer time. In clay soils … adding compost can break up clay so that water can penetrate into the earth, while losing less moisture from run-off.

A healthy soil also allows beneficial insects, earthworms and other creatures to crawl around and work the soil, which opens it up and allows more air to flow through. In turn, this aeration allows the soil to hold more water. This means that people don’t need to water their lawns and gardens as often.

Good compost is the best soil amendment but some compost is better than others. Producing quality compost is down to how it is made. Just throwing your waste material on an open heap will produce compost eventually but it will be of doubtful and variable quality. Being more systematic by waiting until you have enough materials to fill your bin in one go, having the correct mix of green (N) and brown (C) materials and the correct amount of moisture, will ensure that the compost works quickly and heats up. See the Composting pages in the Resources section above.

Every gardener should make compost from garden waste. There really is excuse for the huge bonfires that are a regular feature of most allotments. So do NOT burn fallen leaves use them to make leaf mould, see this page, which is low in nutrients but a very good soil conditioner.

And do not forget to compost your kitchen waste, be proud to have a ‘slop bucket’!